Social Democrat challenger Peer Steinbrück (left) has admitted that he failed to unseat Angela Merkel. She may, however, look to SPD party head Sigmar Gabriel to form a new coalition.
The Social Democrats (SPD) chancellor candidate, Peer Steinbrück, was always a distant second to Angela Merkel in polls leading up to the election, and preliminary official results on Monday confirmed what had been suspected all along: The SPD, the German party with the most members, has come in second to the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) with 25.6 percent of the vote. In 2009, the SPD polled it's all-time low of 23 percent in national elections.
Steinbrück and the SPD sought to unseat the Merkel-run CDU government, campaigning for greater social justice, a crackdown on banks, and higher taxes for high-income earners.
Despite the traditional rivalry between the parties, Merkel may opt to form a grand coalition with the SPD. Her preferred partners, the FDP, fell short of the mandatory 5 percent that guarantees parliamentary representation.
Merkel has so far refused state her coalition plans, but said during a televised debate Sunday evening that she expects hold talks with the SPD. Taken together, the SPD and CDU would have more than enough votes to form a coalition with a combined total of more than 67 percent.
"The ball is in Mrs. Merkel's court," Steinbrück said.
Steinbrück's tough campaign
Merkel formed a grand coalition in 2005 for her first term with the SPD when Steinbrück served as her finance minister. However, he had voiced his opposition to participating in a new Merkel government. In one of his last campaign speeches before the election, Steinbrück urged voters to "get rid of the most backward-looking, least capable, most loud-mouthed German government since reunification."
Steinbrück, who was finance minister in Merkel's 2005-2009 coalition, has had a somewhat gaffe-prone campaign, most lately causing a stir with a picture of him showing a middle finger when asked in a special pictorial "interview" about his problem-ridden campaign.
He also complained that he didn't receive enough backing form his own party, and there was some speculation about whether he was the right candidate for the party in the first place.
The SPD favors a coalition with the Greens, but the pro-environment party did not win enough votes to make this possible without involving the Left Party, which the SPD has repeatedly ruled out.
For more information on the German elections, take a look at DW's election special page.